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Sensory Reeducation: How to Achieve the Return of Sensation After Stroke

occupational therapist working with patient on sensory reeducation after stroke

Is it possible to achieve the return of sensation after stroke? Can patients that can’t feel anything overcome their numbness?

Fortunately, there is hope for the return of sensation after stroke. The process is called sensory reeducation, and you’re about to learn all about it.

First, we’ll dig into the causes of sensory issues after stroke. Then, we’ll show you some exercises to help promote the recovery of sensation. Let’s get started!

What Causes Sensory Issues After Stroke?

Sensory issues after stroke can take many different forms.

Some patients experience numbness on the affected side while others feel pins-and-needles. In some cases, stroke survivors also struggle with feeling the difference between hot and cold.

Sensory issues like these often occur after a stroke has damaged a part of the brain that helps regulate sensation. The brain works as a whole to interpret sensation, but some areas play a heavier role.

For example, the thalamus is responsible for relaying 98% of sensory input. It’s no surprise, then, that thalamic stroke survivors often experience numbness and sensory issues.

Patients that experience parietal lobe stroke or occipital lobe stroke may also experience sensory issues. These regions of the brain also help regulate sensation.

Now that you understand the cause of sensory issues, let’s discuss methods to achieve the return of sensation after stroke.

The Return of Sensation After Stroke

stroke survivor touching her face and feeling the return of sensation after stroke

While sensory issues may seem concerning at first, there is hope for recovery. Through sensory reeducation, stroke survivors can retrain the brain to process sensory signals again.

Every stroke is different, so everyone’s recovery from sensory issues will be different. Some patients experience spontaneous recovery where sensation returns on its own.

Other patients require therapy in order to maximize the chances of regaining sensation after stroke.

The best type of therapy that can help with sensory issues is sensory reeducation exercises.

These exercises provide stimulation to the brain to help promote sensory processing. You will find some below.

Just like you can recover movement through physical therapy exercises, you can also achieve the return of sensation through sensory reeducation exercises. It requires consistency and repetition.

The brain responds to stimulation by rewiring itself based on the volume and frequency of your therapy. Most exercise means more stimulation and, as a result, more recovery.

Sensory Reeducation Exercises to Try at Home

Below you will find a list of exercises that you can do to help restore your brain’s ability to interpret your senses.

All of the exercises involve your sense of touch. Each time you touch something, you send sensory stimulation to your brain and encourage your brain to rewire itself.

Try to repeat each exercise at least 10 times and practice for about 10-15 minutes a day. Remember, repetition and consistency are the most important things for a speedy recovery from stroke.

Now, let’s get into the exercises.

Bonus: Download our free Stroke Rehab Exercises ebook. (Link will open a pop-up that will not interrupt your reading.)

1. Tabletop Touch Therapy

Gather together objects with different textures and place them onto a table in front of you. Then, without looking at the objects, pick them up and feel them. Try to distinguish the difference between textures.

Some examples of objects to grab are soft scarves, rough sandpaper, fluffy cotton balls, rough Velcro, and cool silverware.

2. Texture Hunting

Fill a bowl with uncooked rice and bury different textured objects in it, like marbles, coins, Velcro strips, cotton balls, etc.

Then, reach your hand into the bowl and try to find the objects without looking.

3. Texture Handling

person holding a soft towel to stimulate the brain with sensory reeducation exercises

Have someone place different objects in your hand with your eyes open. Sense how these objects feel.

Once you’ve gone through all the objects and observed how they feel, perform the exercise again with your eyes closed.

Put all your focus into feeling each object to emphasize that connection in your mind. Note any difference between how the objects feel with your eyes open or closed.

4. Temperature Differentiation

This exercise is particularly beneficial to stroke survivors who have trouble feeling heat or cold.

Soak a cloth in cold water and soak another cloth in hot (but not scalding) water. Then, have someone place the cold cloth on your arm. Try to sense what that feels like.

After 30 seconds, have them switch the cold cloth with the warm cloth. Try to sense the difference in temperature.

Then, close your eyes. Have your assistant place one cloth on your arm and try to determine if you’re feeling heat or cold.

Repeat this exercise back and forth alternating from hot to cold.

If you don’t have an assistant, you can perform this exercise yourself using your unaffected side to place the cloths on your arm.

5. Sensory Locating

Close your eyes and have a caregiver place her hand somewhere on your arm. Then, point to the area that you think she touched.

If you don’t point to the correct area, have your caregiver move your hand. Then, open your eyes to visually absorb the information.

Feedback like this helps retrain your brain. It’s like telling your brain, “I was not touched here, I was touched there.”

Repeat this exercise at least 10 times, preferably more!

Once you master this exercise, switch it up by having your assistant touch you with different textured objects, like a Q-tip or metal spoon.

Always keep your eyes closed during the exercise, and if you perform the exercise incorrectly, open your eyes once your caregiver moves your finger to absorb the feedback.

The Return of Sensation After Stroke

Sensory reeducation is all about providing the brain with the stimulation it needs to recover sensation after stroke.

It emphasizes an important concept of stroke recovery: with enough repetition, you can relearn almost any skill you want, including the skill of feeling.

Results may not come fast, but when you put in the work, the brain will respond. Good luck on the road to recovery!

Keep It Going: Download Our Stroke Recovery Ebook for Free

Get our free stroke recovery ebook called 15 Tips that Every Stroke Survivor Should Know by signing up below!

You’ll also receive our weekly Monday newsletter that contains 5 articles on stroke recovery.

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See how Susan is recovering from post-stroke paralysis

“I had a stroke five years ago causing paralysis on my left side which remains today.

I recently began using FitMi.

At first it was difficult for me to be successful with a few of the exercises but the more I use it, the better my scores become.

I have recently had some movement in my left arm that I did not have before.

I don’t know if I can directly relate this to the use of the FitMi but I am not having occupational therapy so I conclude that it must be benefiting me.

The therapy modality motivates me to use it daily and challenges me to compete against my earlier scores.

I heartily recommend it!-Susan, stroke survivor

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